Rollin' Thunder: Meadowbrook’s Flag Day features a flurry of cultural performances

Twelve tires and rolls and rolls of duct tape, and the Taiko ensemble at Meadowbrook High School was born. Japanese Club members caught on to the technique and were well-prepared for the two songs they performed during the International Flag Ceremony. The annual event, held last Friday, was created by the county’s Teacher of the Year, Paul Daszkiewicz, and sponsored by the schools Interact Club along with the World Language Department.  Daszkiewicz is finding more and more participation from the student body and their teachers, as well as the clubs of the school.  It has become electrifying and he is thrilled.

With the backdrop of 86 flags on stage, the Taiko performance blended well with the dances performed by the International Dance Club and the International Fashion Show. New students to Meadowbrook, Tughral Abdul from Uzbekistan and Mike Cauberghs from Belgium added their country’s flag to the existing 84. The International Flag Ceremony celebrates the rich diversity of culture and the many nationalities that comprise the students and staff of Meadowbrook.

“DONKON dokodoko DONKON katakata donkon donkon donkon DONKON” the sounds of Taiko through the halls at Meadowbrook High School every Tuesday and Thursday for the last two months and on stage last Friday.

The Japanese Club decided early in the spring semester that they would perform the ancient custom of Taiko ( the Japanese word for drum) for the May event. It has been around for centuries, beginning with a style of ceremonial drumming used as background music during festivals. The club usually meets once a week, but for the last two months, the members, their sponsor and a Taiko instructor had been meeting twice a week.

It was February when two of their members, Claudia James and Rachel Bethune, were blown away when they heard Taiko during a performance at the University of Richmond. “There was this one guy (Claudia) and he hits it really hard (Rachel) and we were sitting all the way in the back of the room - we could feel the drums. We could feel the bass. You could hear it so well and I said wow, I wish I could do that (Rachel). Doing it now, Rachel said, “It is like a dream come true.”

James and Bethune convinced their club-sponsor and Japanese teacher, Tsugumi Fukuma, when the drum issue was solved. Attending festivals a couple of years ago, Bethune saw a Taiko performance with drums made from tires and duct tape.  One day after school, 13 tires appeared in a lower foyer at the school.  Fukuma purchased rolls and rolls of grey duct tape.  It only took a couple of hours for drums to form.  Gathering the sticks, the Taiko ensemble was ready to play.  A partnership was form with the River City Ensemble based at University of Richmond (UR) and Meadowbrook’s Japanese Club.  Members of the River City ensemble, Alasdair Denvil, and Dr. Paul Yoon, UR music professor, volunteered their energies and time to teach.

“Ms. Fukuma was in contact with Alasdair initially, and he has been leading these sessions with the students,” wrote Dr. Yoon in an email.  Yoon and Denvil are very supportive of bringing Taiko to schools.

“Taiko is an excellent way to keep students physically active, build confidence and discipline, spark creativity and foster team work. I welcome opportunities to strengthen connections between the University of Richmond and the surrounding community.”

Taiko blends the physical and cerebral in artistic expression. Yoon said, “Practice sessions are as much training as rehearsal. It is very important to have the stamina necessary to complete a performance without being winded.” Adding, “The physical is not an end in itself. The end goal is the music and the camaraderie and enjoyment that comes from making music with others.”

Bethune agrees saying, “It is more labor than logic.”

With a brass plate and ball timekeeper, Denvil kept the drumming at a steady pace. The tires and duct tape were left in the classroom and replace by drums furnished by River City Taiko ensemble.  The black t-shirts painted with Japanese lettering by Ms. Fukuma gave the club a sense of unity and each drummer kept the pace ending at the same time followed by a glow of success by the student ensemble and their teachers.

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